Sunday, February 26, 2012

Masters Running Advice - Top 10 List (Part II)

This is a continuation of Masters Running Advice - Top 10 List (Part I):

#5 You are Smarter than 90% of the Guys 1/2 Your Age
'Smart' is not really the right word here, because you can do a cycling hill climb against a 20 year old rocket scientist and probably kick his butt if you have the right experiences and he does not.

If you've lived a cognitive and introspective life, then with those years comes wisdom. All those countless articles you've read on lactate threshold, equipment, nutrition, Spanx - Uhmm - well, maybe not so much that.

And the time you've spent living in that body of yours. You know how most of your bits and pieces respond to various training plans, workouts and recovery rituals. You know your weak spots and can zero in on them. You are attentive during a run and can zone in and zone out as needed on certain little details in the middle of a race.

You know what it's like to suffer. You know that it's 'discomfort', not pain - because chances are by now, you've been through something where you experienced real pain. You know that the suffering actually has a limit - and that mostly, it's built into our bodies to scare primal beings into backing off. It's like the 'beep-beep' of the electric fence. You know you can get a bit closer though.

You understand tactics, even if it's because you've learned by making mistakes. Like going out too fast. You've done it enough to know you can't bank time. You'd be surprised how many 30 year olds are unconvinced of that fact. You know how to come around a corner and surge so that when the racer challenging you from behind comes around the corner and sees the gap you've opened, it's that much more mentally tough for them to close it. You know to keep the stride short on uphills, stay tall, and kick over the top instead of the rookie stall. You've run more miles and your body has spent more time adapting to the nuances of your sport.

You understand recovery and sleep. You have the discipline to know how important it is. I know I can generally tell when I am within 4 hours of being recovered enough for my next run. And I've pushed a run without adequate recovery enough times to learn my lesson. You know rest is PART of training, not an ABSENCE of training.

Remember in Kung Fu when the master told Grasshopper to take the pebble from his hand? The master knew he wasn't physically quicker. He just knew that Caine wasn't in control of his emotions. He telegraphed.

#4 Strength Training is No Longer Optional
As you get older, you start to lose muscle mass. Studies have shown that around age 45, you start to lose about 1% per year. This accelerates to about 2% per year after age 50.

There are a couple ways to slow this down. You can start with more muscle mass or you can simply 'tell' your body you still need all that muscle. You accomplish both of these by incorporating regular strength training into your routine. And don't worry. You're not going to 'bulk up' and end up looking like Ahhnold. That takes years of focused training coupled with a genetic gift for looking that way. Nope - you'll just be stronger.

As a bonus, you'l probably get faster and / or have increased endurance. And you'll have less aches and pains in the morning after a tough run. Especially if you focus on the right exercises to compliment your sport. But in general, you can't go wrong with things like lunges, squat to press, planks, push-ups and pull-ups. Just search for something like "strength training for <insert activity here>" on Google and you'll get articles, pictures, videos - all free. How cool is that?

#3 Improve Your Economy
No, not the fiscal kind. Economy here is defined as how efficiently you can use oxygen while maintaining a particular pace. You could broaden the term to simply say it's about maximizing the effort you need to exert into pure movement in the desired direction. For example - clenching your fist is not very economical. You are simply standing still - letting muscles fight against each other, all the while dissipating heat and burning energy.

Over the years, your body adapts to the movement patterns it is asked to do most often - provided you give it the right guidance and practice the proper movements over and over.

Want to know why an East African runner looks like graceful and effortless while running a 5:00 min pace per mile? It's because they've run a lot. Their muscle fibers are aligned to the motion of running. Their neuromuscular system knows how to relax certain muscle groups when opposing groups contract (i.e. they don't fight each other) and how to 'pre-load' the muscle prior to impact with the ground. Their connective tissue has reached just the right degree of 'springiness'. Muscles that are important to running have been emphasized and developed while others are less developed.

A world class cyclist knows how to sit and relax on the bike. They have very little tension in their arms and upper body (and faces). They have a very smooth and efficient pedal stroke. They 'pedal in circles' as opposed to most amateurs that 'pedal in squares' (and death grip the handlebars while their at it). Want to see how well you fare? Unclip one foot and pedal one footed. See how smooth and fast you can do it. Then do the other leg. When you go back to pedaling with both feet - you'll be a tiny bit smoother. Now do that drill and others over a period of years. You'll be more efficient, more economical - i.e. you'll be faster dude.

Bruce Lee once said that "Practice does not make perfect." Rather it is the coupling of practice with a constant attention to improving movement that make us better.

Spend some time getting a form analysis done - preferable someone that video tapes you and knows what to look for. It takes time to incorporate a change to your form - so make sure the recommended change comes from someone credible. Those changes will feel awkward at first, but as your body adapts to the new movement pattern, it becomes second nature. Make small changes at a time and let them sink in.

But most importantly - do your sport in a mindful way. Always be thinking about how to relax more, even at speed. I was running with a friend doing hill intervals. On one of the recoveries I asked him why he clenched up his chest when he was running hard? I told him to think about water flowing uphill. He instantly ran the fastest repeat of the set.

#2 Get a Coach
If the hard work of your youth that you poured into a business or company has paid off, you probably have a bit more disposable income than you had when you were 25 years old. Of all the stuff you can spend your money on in the sport, nothing will be money better spent than having a seasoned vet helping you with your training and form. It's also a nice feeling to have that personalized attention when you're an age grouper. It's nice to feel 'taken care of' to some extent and to not have to worry about the nitty gritty details of training schedule planning.

It's also good to have another perspective. When I ask to change certain things in my schedule, I trust that my coach will push back if I'm doing something I probably shouldn't. Sometimes we can blinded a bit by our own ambition and work ethic - to our detriment. A good coach keeps you on track to your goals.

It's also a motivator to know that someone other than me will be looking at my training schedule. On those days that I'm struggling being mentally motivated to run, or to put in a solid effort, I suck it up because I don't want to put a big goose egg in that day's workout log and have to explain myself. Don't get me wrong - if I know somethings not working that day, I still back off and write it down. But I have to really believe it's more than just laziness to face my coach regarding that workout.

In short - having a coach has made me a better runner.

#1 Share Your Knowledge - but More Importantly, Share your Enthusiasm
Finally - with all that knowledge comes a responsibility to share it (which was part of the motivation for me to write this article). While I'm not one to provide unsolicited advice to the misguided souls I sometimes see pounding away and rolling along on the paths and roads around Denver, I will often offer unsolicited encouragement to someone that looks like their suffering or struggling. Saying to someone 'nice pace', or telling someone that they have a nice smooth stride, or look really relaxed on the bike goes a long way to adding to their motivation.

But anyone that knows me knows that all you have to do is ask a questions, and I'm happy to share what I've read or experienced personally through years of training. Sometimes I spew out more detail than they were probably looking for, but often it's the simplest of questions that unearths the most complex answer. Questions like - "Which bike should I buy?" or "How do I get faster?"

Still - the best advice you can give as an experienced athlete is about how to stay motivated and in love with a sport year after year after year. How do you get up every morning, not eat that doughnut etc... In short - how do you stay consistent?

One of the best answers I've found is when I've crossed the finish line, I head back to the line and cheer everyone else on. I wave when I pass every runner, cyclist and walker out on the road. I joke around with other cyclists when I'm climbing on the bike. And regardless if I'm passing or being passed, I remark, "Nice work!"

postscript: Well, that's it. My top 10. I'm sure if I thought some more I could come up with more or perhaps distill this down to less. But hopefully you found something useful here. And although I started writing this aimed at Masters runners, looking back - much of this could probably apply regardless of your age group. Finally - if you've got other tips that go along with this or comments, send me an eMail. I'd love to hear from you! 

Happy <insert activity here>!

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